The watershed moment I realized I wanted to be a mother

By Claire Lynch

The only way we could afford the flight from London was to go via Geneva and make an implausible connection, running between the terminals. It was our first big trip as a couple, an adventure, but also a relationship test. Anna and Graeme were the first in our group of friends to get married and we all knew it marked the end of an era. In the last year, friends had stopped throwing impromptu house parties and started planning tasteful weddings.

On the night we arrive, Anna and Graeme hold a party at their house, the yard lit with string lights. Their parents fuss around the guests with trays of food and we all play our parts: the high school friends, the cousin from Alberta, the work colleagues, the neighbors. “So we’re the university friends?” I ask Anna, as we carry extra chairs into the garden. “You are,” she laughs, ‘now go and convince my mother we were never out of the library.’

Her name was Wren and it suited her perfectly as she hopped and flitted around the party, a small girl of about two, with dark hair and yellow shoes. It was exactly as if someone had brought a tiny wild bird to the party. Because she was the only child there, everyone watched her, smiled at her, asked her inane questions. Later in the evening, Anna and Graeme were jostled to hold the little girl for a photograph. Wren, the stunt double, a stand-in for their future child. She was a symbol, a lucky charm. She was a shock.

It had not occurred to me, somehow, that people our age would have children, but as I watched her line up stones at the edge of the garden path, I realized, we were precisely the age of people who have children. Isn’t this what the wedding was all about anyway? I wonder now why it came as such a shock to me that friends’ boyfriends would become husbands, that wild nights out would become sleepless ones at home with a baby. Anna crouched in front of Wren to offer her a biscuit and her relatives cooed and nudged each other. She was a natural.

They were married on the Sunday evening, beneath a patchwork chuppa sewn from squares made by their guests. Anna was beautiful, tearful. Graeme stamped on the glass and looked out at his friends and family with a wide shy smile. Everyone ate and danced and cried and laughed. In the taxi home Beth and I talked about which of our friends might get married next and I wasn’t at all sure if the night was the end of something or a beginning.

Montreal isn’t far enough away from London for jet lag but I was out of sorts for weeks after we came home. “We need to organize this place,” I announce one morning and Beth dutifully helps me to build flat-packed bookshelves, as if this might put some order on our lives. At work I browse job websites. I change the font on my CV. I sign up for a charity run.

Three weeks after the wedding a letter arrives with Canadian stamps. It is a thank you note from Anna and Graeme, folded around a black and white photograph from the reception. The photo has caught the four of us, laughing, holding each other up in the unsteady sway of a dance floor at midnight. There would be more of these, I thought, more souvenirs of our straight friends getting married, their parents looking on proud and approving. Soon, I knew, an email would arrive in my inbox, the good news, the grainy scan picture of a baby under construction. A gap was opening up between the life I had and the life I wanted and I didn’t know how to fill it. I pinned the photo to the fridge door.

It was two years before I could repay Anna’s hospitality. She came to London for a conference, leaving Graeme at home to mind their growing family of rescue animals, two imperious cats and an elegant greyhound. To celebrate her visit I had invited our mutual friends from graduate school to lunch. We all did our best to time travel, tried to act like previous drafts of ourselves. We teased each other about our grown up jobs, made jokes about having mortgages, wondered how it was possible that so much could have changed in so little time.

Later, when everyone else had gone home, Anna helped me wash the dishes. The two of us alone in the kitchen, she told me she was tired of it, the comments from her parents about grandchildren, the jokes about the pitter patter of tiny feet. “I mean,” she said, “we have a ton of pets and hard wood floors, its nothing but the sound of tiny feet at our apartment.” And we laughed, although we knew it wasn’t funny. People asked her questions, she said, made assumptions. She doesn’t want to tell her boss she’s trying for a baby. It’s none of his business, but he asks anyway. The doctor has told her to relax.

“Do you guys want kids?” She asks me, squeaking a wine glass dry. I looked at my friend, asking me to understand her, offering me the chance to be understood. I shrugged, and said, “we haven’t ruled it out.” I do not say that, actually, I have lost count of the number of IVF cycles we have been through in the last few years. I don’t say that there’s nothing I want more than to be a mother. I don’t tell her about the money, or the bruises, or the arguments. I keep it to myself, like a grown up.

Upstairs, I hand Anna a bath towel and show her the spare room. “Sleep well,” I say, “it’s great having you to stay.” Then, I go into my bedroom, pinch some flesh above my hip, inject another shot of progesterone, and go to sleep dreaming of daughters.

Claire Lynch is a writer and academic based in Windsor, England. She lives with her wife Beth, their three-year-old twin daughters, and new baby daughter, Wren. 

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